When you hear the word “paleo,” you probably think dinosaurs, woolly mammoths, and other prehistoric flora and fauna. Do you think of the prehistoric man? More importantly, do you think about what the prehistoric man was eating?
This is the idea behind the hugely popular “paleo diet.” Anything that a prehistoric cave dweller was eating is what we should be eating too. After all, have you ever seen an obese caveman? Anything that could be reasonably hunted and/or gathered by one of your ancestors is free game in the paleo diet.
The paleo diet also encourages eating these “right” foods and lowers the emphasis on counting calories and measuring portion sizes. When done correctly, the diet does have potential to help you lose weight and gain muscle, but it can also be easily done incorrectly.
The basic principle behind the paleo diet is that human society has become much too dependent on grains, mostly due to the evolution of agriculture. Supporters of the paleo diet show the correlation between eating an influx of bad carbs and the human race as a whole getting fatter as time goes by. By getting rid of the grains that were not a part of the “original” human diet, the paleo diet aims to take humans back to their slimmer, leaner origins.
So, What are the Guidelines Exactly?
On the surface, the paleo diet is relatively simple. If a caveman did not eat it, neither should you. The paleo diet recommends a higher intake of fats, a moderate intake of protein, and a low intake of carbohydrates. Counting calories and controlling portions is discouraged.
Consuming saturated fats is encouraged, usually through foods like butter and oil. Red meat is a staple, as well as organs such as liver and kidneys, fish, and shellfish.
Paleo diets prohibit most legumes and grains, such as wheat, barley, oats, rye, corn, peanuts, soy, and some varieties of beans. Added sugars are also frowned upon, as well as most dairy products, except for butter with few other exceptions.
The paleo diet can also extend to lifestyle as well. It recommends doing your best to eliminate outside stressors, but also to navigate the stress with coping skills. They also recommend sleeping at least eight hours a night, going to bed when it gets dark and waking up without an alarm.
What Does the Science Say?
As with most diets and lifestyles, the paleo diet has supporters as well as naysayers. What most agree on, though, is that paleo has its roots in the right place; cutting down on refined and processed carbs has an abundant amount of benefits for your health. However, there are also benefits to dairy and grain consumption.
Paleo dieters also claim that our genetics are relatively unchanged since the Paleolithic era, which is incorrect. They claim that our prehistoric genetic composition is not compatible with our new way of eating, and there lies the cause of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. However, we are not identical to our Stone Age counterparts, and human evolution does not work the way paleo dieters believe that it does.
What Do You Eat on a Paleo Diet?
While there are a vast amount of dietary restrictions while on the paleo diet, there are also a large amount of foods that you are encouraged to eat. Most of these foods are higher in protein and fat than in a typical diet, but there are also a good variety of vegetables and fruits that are included in the diet. The most important part of a paleo diet is the emphasis on “unprocessed” foods; do your best to consume free-range, grass-fed, organic foods if they are available.
As far as proteins go, most options are within the parameters of the paleo diet. Chicken, pork, beef, turkey, and lamb are common options. Fish and other forms of seafood are encouraged as well but try to choose wild-caught options. Salmon, haddock, trout, shrimp, and other shellfish are good selections. Eggs are also a staple in the paleo diet, but again, free-range is ideal.
In the realm of vegetables, leafy greens and roots are common. Broccoli, peppers, carrots, kale, onions, tomatoes, the list goes on. Fruits are almost limitless as well; bananas, apples, pears, oranges, berries are all usual. Certain starchy tubers are also included in the diet, like potatoes, turnips, and yams.
Seeds and nuts are a great source of nutrition in the paleo diet. Almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds make great additions. There is also an emphasis on healthy sources of fats and oils, like coconut and avocado oil, but these have certain stipulations. They are not typically used for cooking, but rather for drizzling over food to add flavor.
Over time, the paleo diet has evolved with those that choose to follow it. Some more modern foods have been added into the diet due to scientific research and recommendation. This includes certain kinds of bacon, butter, and non-gluten grains such as rice.
Indulgences are worked into the diet in small amounts as well. Small quantities of red wine and dark chocolate have been shown to contain both antioxidants and nutrients. Additionally, while a high intake of water is encouraged, paleo dieters are also able to drink tea and coffee. This is mainly due to health benefits as well as antioxidants.
Is Paleo For You?
Honestly, the only person that can decide on a diet for you is you and a doctor. There is no one right way to follow a paleo diet. All of these “rules” should be seen more like general guidelines rather than specific instructions to follow verbatim. Everything can be adapted and changed to fit your lifestyle, needs, and preferences.
Remember to always consult your doctor before embarking on a lifestyle or diet change. Only they can help determine if this is a viable and safe change for you to make. Always make the healthiest choices and talk to a doctor first!